Barry Marshall, 2005 Nobel Laureate, was the keynote speaker at the Ninth Annual Computational Genomics Conference held in Baltimore, Md. from October 28-31.

At the conference, which was hosted by the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, an international group of scientists came together to discuss some of the latest cutting-edge developments in computational biology and bioinformatics.

In his presentation, Marshall, a senior principal research fellow for the National Health Medical Research Council (NHMRC) at the University of Western Australia, and part-time gastroenterologist, traced the story of his discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. Marshall, together with colleague Robin Warren, established the role of H.pylori in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease. The discovery resulted in the pair being awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Marshall described the resistance he and Warren faced when they claimed there was a link between bacteria and gastrointestinal problems. To prove his point, Marshall had to drink a culture of Helicobacter to demonstrate that the bacteria could infect a healthy person and cause gastritis. By taking action, Marshall explained, he was able to develop new treatments for infection and diagnostic tests. As a result, Helicobacter has been generally accepted as the cause of most gastroduodenal diseases, including peptic ulcer and gastric cancer.

Through their work, Marshall and Warren proved that these bacteria were serious pathogens and that antibiotics provide a cure for peptic ulcer. Ulcers can now be cured with a one-time expense of about $300, as opposed to the thousands of dollars for treatment over many years, including unnecessary surgery, which was common prior to the discovery. Marshall also related that the very first abstract describing the discovery, made in the early 1980s, was rejected by the organizers of a conference in Australia, which accepted 55 out of 67 submissions. In recent years, Marshall’s research has illuminated the patterns of Helicobacter infection in different populations around the world and Helicobacter is now recognized as a major factor in the development of stomach cancer.

At the Ninth Annual Computational Genomics Conference, participants heard a wide range of presentations describing the latest advances in computational methods for analysis of genome sequences, high-throughput automated genome annotation, the use of bioinformatics for the study of biological networks and infectious disease research, as well as other topics.

Virginia Bioinformatics Institute Deputy Director João Setubal and Executive and Scientific Director Bruno Sobral chaired the conference, which included 122 attendees and featured 24 oral presentations and 60 poster presentations. The conference was sponsored by the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI), The Jackson Laboratory, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), the National Human Genome Research Institute, the National Science Foundation, and Virginia Tech.